Some areas of this South Kashmir district have been virtually turned out of bounds for the security forces by the terrorists who are bolstered by a strong network of supporters, absence of mainstream political activity and the low morale of the police force there. Pulwama sits strategically along the national highway that connects the Kashmir Valley with the rest of country. The heightened militancy this year here is receiving ground support with the local people posing maximum resistance to the forces, especially during counter-insurgency operations. Often referred to as the rice bowl of the Valley, Pulwama, with eight tehsils of Pulwama, Pampore, Rajpora, Kakapora, Tral, Shahoora, Awantipora, Aripal, has earned the notorious distinction of becoming a hub of militant activities and some major security operations have been carried out here.
Some of the deadly encounters, including the gunning down of Lashker-e-Taiba chief for Kashmir Abu Qassim, who was a Pakistani national, have taken place here triggering immediate reaction from thousands of people who took to the streets and pelted stones on security forces. “This symbolises the amount of support that the militants are getting from the local populace. Be it fear or lack of political activity, the fact is that militancy has been ruling the roost in this region and I fear it is unchecked so far,” says a senior politician from the area, who preferred to remain anonymous due to threats from various terror groups.
Divided into two police districts – Pulwama and Awantipora, the area has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Pulwama has been hitting the headlines due to a range of terror attacks including bank robberies, snatching of weapons, ransacking of an army camp or targeted killing of security forces especially CRPF. According to a senior security official, places like Kamrai Pora, Karimabad, Sambura, Lelhar, Tahab, Aglar, Litter, Bamnu and Koil have virtually become ‘no-go’ areas for law enforcement agencies and the security forces because of the hostility from the locals. “I won’t say any parallel government is running at these places but they are not been frequented (by security forces) often. If need be, security forces move in only after carrying out area-domination at these places,” the official said.
After the killing of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit, on July 8 last year, the district has accounted for the disappearance of over 90 youths who are believed to have joined various militant outfits.
The public support to militant groups can be gauged from the fact that police had advance information about the bank robbery committed in the area, the politician averred. Despite laying a trap, the police could not avert it as the militants managed to decamp with the cash, he claimed. The district has also emerged as a ‘reception area’ for foreign militants who sneak into South Kashmir via Pakharpora of Budgam district only to disperse.
The dense forests of Yarwan in the region provides natural cover to the militants and several efforts of the army and other security forces were thwarted on a number of occasions by the locals, the police official conceded. He said that overground workers of terror groups forewarn the militants about troop movements, helping them to easily slip into adjoining regions like Shopian, Budgam or Anantnag. There is a strong presence of militants in Pulwama town as well but post-March this year, all anti-terror operations were halted due to the announcement of the Lok Sabha bypoll here as the district falls under the Anantnag parliamentary seat which felt vacant after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned last July.